Tears, hugs and defiance as gay leaders vow `We won't be bombed back into the closet'

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The Independent Online
THE VIGIL was expected to be a low-key affair. In the event, 2,000 people gathered yesterday afternoon in Soho Square, the small rectangle of green where paramedics treated the maimed and the injured on Friday night.

The mood was one of both sorrow and defiance. "Nobody, but nobody, is going to bomb us back into the closet," declared Angela Mason, director of Stonewall, the gay lobby group, who was one of a stream of speakers to address the crowd.

Pink and rainbow flags, symbolic of gay liberation, fluttered in the breeze as the London Gay Men's Choir, which organised the vigil, sang hymns and spirituals.

Mourners wept and comforted one another as they remembered the victims of the blast in the Admiral Duncan pub, a stone's throw from the square.

Relations between police and the gay community have not always been cordial, but yesterday there was applause for Chief Superintedent Jo Kaye, the officer in charge of policing Soho. He paid tribute to the community's "strength and dignity" in the face of terrorism.

Also warmly received was a speech by a victim of the bomb, named only as Mark, who wept as he said simply: "Thanks everybody for coming and for all your support."

The vigil ended with two minutes' silence for the three people killed in the blast.Earlier, Soho regulars attempted to bring a semblance of normality back to their lives.

Curtis Howell, drinking coffee in front of the Amalfi restaurant in Old Compton Street, said: "You can't let the bomb change your life."

At the junction of Old Compton Street and Dean Street, a police barrier still blocked the road and the Admiral Duncan remained obscured by a bright blue awning.

Along the barrier were dozens of bouquets. Among those contemplating the floral display was a man who gave his name only as David, who was in the Admiral Duncan on Friday night when the bomb went off. "I was on my own, drinking a glass of mineral water, and there was a bright white flash and bang," he said. "And then - it was like being chucked in a swimming pool.I was still standing up, but the bar was completely dark.

"The floor was covered with rubble. A young lad started screaming and hanging on to my shirt, shouting, `Get me out of here'."

David escaped with a few cuts and bruises."That's why I'm here today, to pay respects. There but for the grace of God, you know."

On Old Compton Street yesterday, the espresso machines were hissing as if nothing were amiss. But Patisserie Valerie, one of Soho's most popular cafes, was not as busy as usual.Albert Barrios, the manager, said: "Maybe one month, maybe two months. But in the end everyone will forget."

Among those gazing at the damage wrought by the bomb was a burly Irishman who had come along with his wife and two young children. "I work for a building contractor up there," he said, motioning with his head up Old Compton Street.

"I thought, `I could have been walking past here'. It could have been anyone. I know this is a gay area, but that's never bothered me. Live and let live, that's what I say."

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